(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Education to make a statement on the appointment of Toby Young to the board of the Office for Students.
The Office for Students came into being on 1 January and will be operational from April. It will put quality of teaching, student choice and value for money at the heart of what it does. It will be helped in that regard by a remarkably broad and strong board bringing together a wide range of talents and backgrounds, including vice-chancellors, graduate employers and legal and regulatory experts, as well as a student representative mandated by statute. The board also brings a diversity of views: its excellent chair, Sir Michael Barber, was a senior adviser to a former Labour Prime Minister; and several of its members have declared themselves to be past or present members of the Labour party. This is clearly not a body of Conservative stooges, but one that draws on talent wherever it can be found.
The Opposition have called this debate to discuss one of the board’s 15 members, Toby Young. They would have us believe that he is not qualified or suitable to be on the board. Yes, Mr Young is not a university insider, but a board made up only of university insiders would be hard pressed to provide the scrutiny and challenge to the sector that students and taxpayers deserve. Indeed, the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 requires the Secretary of State to have regard to the desirability of the board’s members having, between them, far wider experience, including experience of promoting choice for consumers and encouraging competition. Mr Young has real experience of both as the founder of the West London Free School, and now as director of the New Schools Network, helping parents around the country to set up schools of their own. That experience will be important to a new regulator that will be charged with creating a level playing field for high-quality new providers to offer degrees alongside established universities.
At the West London Free School, which Mr Young set up, 38.5% of children receive the pupil premium, and they have done better than the national average for those on the pupil premium this year and last. A parent-governor at the school described him this week as being
“committed to public education, academic excellence, and greater opportunities for kids from lower incomes”.
He has won praise for supporting diversity by making the school a safe and supportive place for LGBT+ students. He is also an eloquent advocate of free speech, a value that is intrinsic to successful universities and which the OFS has undertaken to uphold. He has served with credit on the board of the US-UK Fulbright Commission, where he has been a strong supporter of the commission’s work with the Sutton Trust to help disadvantaged young people to attend US universities. Indeed, the chair of the Fulbright Commission, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, described Mr Young as an effective, committed and energetic commissioner, saying that he had seen no evidence that any of Mr Young’s remarks had influenced him in despatching his duties as a commissioner.
The hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) has called today’s debate to discuss tweets and remarks, some of which go back to the 1980s. These were foolish and wrong, and do not reflect the values of the Government, but I am not aware that anything Toby Young has said in the past has been found to have breached our strong discrimination laws, which are among the toughest in the world. In future, of course, he will be bound to comply with the Equality Act 2010 when performing all his functions for the Office for Students. Regardless of the legal position, it is of course right that Mr Young has apologised unreservedly to the OFS board. It is also right that he has said that he regrets the comments and given an undertaking that the kind of remarks he made in the past will not be repeated. So be in no doubt that if he or any board member were to make these kinds of inappropriate comments in the future, they would be dismissed.
As the Prime Minister said yesterday, since these comments and tweets, Mr Young has been doing “exceedingly good work” in our education system, and it is for that reason that he is well placed to make a valuable contribution to the work of the board of the Office for Students, where he will continue to do much more to support the disadvantaged than so many of his armchair critics.
It is not lost on me that I am up against one of the Johnson brothers and asking questions about one of their mates.
“Violent, sexist and homophobic language must have no place in our society, and parliamentarians of all parties have a duty to stamp out this sort of behaviour wherever we encounter it, and condemn it in the strongest possible terms.”
Those are the words of the Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities, the right hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening), and it is a shame that she is not here today—I am not quite sure what job she has at the moment. I note that the Leader of the House is with us. She chairs an excellent committee in which we talk about eradicating sexual harassment, victimisation and bullying, and changing the culture in this House. I am therefore flabbergasted by this decision, and it is beyond me how the Minister can stand up and support the appointment of Toby Young. I find it hard to comprehend the appointment; I believe that it leaves the credibility of the Office for Students in tatters.
There are three areas that need to be urgently addressed today. The first is the process. What process was followed? Was the Nolan principle, as outlined in the application, applied? Was due process followed in all cases? Who was the independent assessor—I cannot find that person’s name? Why did the Department for Education exaggerate Toby Young’s qualifications and suitability for the role? Has the Commissioner for Public Appointments approved the appointment?
The second area is suitability. Have the Department for Education’s guidelines on the seven principles of public life been upheld? Most people would laugh at that, but I will leave the Minister to respond. Toby Young’s long history of misogyny and homophobia makes a mockery of such guidelines. A man who wrote about how he went to a gay club dressed as a woman in order to molest lesbians is far from appropriate. Far from apologising, however, he has defended his actions, citing free speech. That might be free speech, but surely it also shows that he is not suitable to hold public office. Just 13 months ago, someone put a sexual harassment policy document on Toby Young’s desk. He said:
“The next bit was underlined in red felt-tip pen: ‘A joke considered amusing by one may be offensive to another.’ I found out just how true those words were when I hired a strippergram to surprise a male colleague on his birthday on what turned out to be Take Our Daughters to Work Day.”
I challenge the Minister to explain that.
The third area is merit. The Prime Minister said on the steps of No. 10 that people would be promoted on the basis of merit, not privilege. Is that still the case, or does having friends like the Johnsons override all that? There are over 800 free schools, meaning that there is a plethora of suitable people who meet the criteria to be involved in the Office for Students. Is this simply a case of jobs for the boys? The Foreign Secretary—the Minister’s brother—declared that Toby Young has caustic wit, making him the ideal man for the job, but if boasting of masturbating over pictures of dying and starving children is caustic wit, I have most definitely lost my sense of humour. Why was the Prime Minister not aware of the comments before the appointment was made?
It is not too late. If there is an apology, rather than a statement of regret, will the Minister place it in the Library along with the more than 40,000 deleted tweets?
On the point of process, Mr Young’s appointment to the board of the Office for Students was made in line with the Commissioner for Public Appointments’ code of practice, and Mr Young was appointed following a fair and open competition. He was selected for interview based on the advertised criteria and interviewed by the same panel that interviewed all other board candidates. Sir Michael Barber, who is the chair of the Office for Students, was one of the panel members, along with a senior civil servant and an independent panel member from the higher education sector, and that panel found Mr Young to be appointable.
As for whether the Department for Education exaggerated Mr Young’s qualifications, it absolutely and categorically did not. Mr Young was a teaching fellow at Harvard and a teaching assistant at Cambridge, positions for which he received payment. The Department for Education never claimed that they were academic posts. As I have said, Mr Young is a Fulbright commissioner and co-founded the West London Free School, and that experience will be vital in encouraging new providers and ensuring that more universities are working effectively with schools.
The Minister will know that I am a supporter of his work and of universities, but things have gone badly wrong here. I accept that Mr Young has done great work on free schools, but so have many other people. I am not talking about the things he has done on Twitter; I am more concerned about some quite dark articles in which he talks about the disabled and the working classes. Much more significantly—I have the article here—in 2015 he talked about what he calls “progressive eugenics”, which is incredibly dark and dangerous stuff. I suggest that my hon. Friend look again at the appointment, because I do not think that it will give students confidence.
I always listen closely to what my right hon. Friend, the Chair of the Education Committee, has to say, and I will look carefully at the article he has with him. Mr Young has expressed his regret and has apologised unreservedly for comments that, in some cases, were made in the 1980s. These are often very old writings and old pieces of work. I think that it is more helpful to Members if we focus on what he does rather than what he says. He has been a champion of students and of children with disabilities in mainstream education. He has a brother with learning disabilities and is a patron of the residential care home in which his brother lives, so we should not characterise him in the crude terms that Opposition Members have used. His deeds matter much more than the terms and the tweets that he has disowned.
Order. Using language slightly loosely, the Minister referred at the outset to how the shadow Minister had called this debate. On advice, I gently remind the House that this is not supposed to be a debate or, therefore, the occasion for speeches either from the Back Benches or the Front Benches; it is a time for pithy questions and answers, to which I know we will now return with enthusiasm.
I call Mr Alan Brown.
Happy new year, Mr Speaker.
This appointment sums up this incompetent Government. Toby Young is a Tory crony, and the Department for Education exaggerated his qualifications. He thinks teachers have it easy. He has shown prejudice against the working class. He has written several misogynistic tweets and, as we have heard, talked about masturbating to Comic Relief images of children in Africa. When that came to light, the reaction of Tory MPs, including the Foreign Secretary, was to defend him.
Young himself does not seem to care. He has not made a full apology, and he says that most of the tweets are several years old, which also seems to be the Minister’s attitude. Frankly, the Minister is putting his head in the sand. It was only two years ago that Toby Young was writing about eugenics for the working class. This House is supposed to be trying to be seen to clean up its act and Conservative Members were only too keen to call for action against the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Jared O'Mara) when his inappropriate tweets were made public, so the rank hypocrisy is absolutely stinking.
It has been suggested that Toby Young is on a yellow card, so will the Minister tell us what constitutes a red card? Will this appointment process be reviewed? What will the Government do to allay the concerns of the National Education Union, of students and of the wider general public? And when will the Government lead by example?
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the Prime Minister’s remarks yesterday on “The Andrew Marr Show.” The Prime Minister was absolutely explicit that she expects no repetition of any of the remarks, comments or utterances that have been the subject of considerable attention over the past week. Any member of the board of the Office for Students who says such things will no longer carry on in that position, and that will be the position going forward.
What account did the independent appointment process take of the public views of candidates, particularly when those views might be so clearly at odds with the equality principles that the Government clearly support?
Of course, the Office for Students is there to represent all interests in our higher education system. The Higher Education and Research Act 2017 puts an obligation on the Secretary of State to have regard to a wide range of factors in making such appointments, including that board members must reflect the broad range of higher education providers, those who experience higher education—the students—and those, such as taxpayers and businesses, who either pay for higher education or are on the receiving end of its product in the flow of graduates into the workforce. The Government are, of course, attentive to reactions to appointments to the board, and we want the board to be highly effective in delivering on the core duties of the Office for Students.
I call Afzal Khan.
Toby labelled Islam a “deeply misogynistic religion,” and he referred to the choice of some Muslim women to adopt the hijab as forced by male oppression. At a time when many more young British Muslim women are entering higher education, do the Government consider it appropriate to appoint such a person to the Office for Students? What is the likelihood that Toby Young will command the respect of Muslim women in higher education who wear the hijab?
The hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) looked almost inconsolable not to be called. It is true that I was looking in her direction at an earlier stage and might very well do so again, but it would be a pity to squander her at too early a stage of our proceeding. I am saving her up.
In response to the question of the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan), and to many other questions that might relate to individual tweets, articles or comments made by Mr Young over a long period of time, the answer is basically the same. Mr Young has acknowledged, and the Government have recognised, that much of what he said was foolish, wrong, offensive or obnoxious, and it is right that he has apologised and expressed regret for what he has said, written and done. It clearly does not reflect the values of the Office for Students or of the Government, but it is also important to recognise that, since he made many of those remarks, he has continued to make a valuable contribution to our education system, to the work of the Fulbright Commission and to the network of free schools across the country, and it is for that reason that he has been appointed to the board of the Office for Students.
I welcome the hon. Member for Morley and Outwood on her return from maternity leave, and let me say that it was a pleasure to attend her wedding.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. It was good to have you at the wedding.
Labour Members feign outrage at Mr Young’s use of social media, but perhaps they should look at the way their own Labour activists and Momentum have treated other candidates, including during the general election. I got attacked by someone called “Corbyn Chick” for being an unmarried mother—where are the family values there? Perhaps Labour Members—[Interruption.] Perhaps if they listened rather than shouted—[Interruption.] Perhaps they should look at how their own Momentum activists and Labour party activists treat other candidates on social media. Why the hypocrisy?
My hon. Friend makes an important point about double standards, because misogyny and misogynistic attitudes are rampant on the Labour Benches, as has been acknowledged by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), who has described a persistent pattern of
“low-level non-violent misogyny”
at the top of the Labour party. It is important that Labour Members—[Interruption.] That is what she said. It is important that Labour Members do not apply double standards when addressing this question. [Interruption.]
Order. I just say to the shadow Transport Secretary: sir, if you were a motor car, you would go from 0 to 60 in about five seconds. It is a discernible trait that I have discerned in you over a period of years and I wish to help you with this condition. Calm yourself. Just be a little calmer. There are many, many hours to go and there are many important developments to take place. Now, after due patience having been exercised, I call Lucy Powell.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.
Mr Young’s comments over the past few months and years speak for themselves, and the Government are making a gross misjudgment in now trying to defend them, but let us just take a moment to look at his record, as the Minister is so keen to talk to us about it. If he looked at the data dashboard for the West London Free School, he would find that progress 8 at that school is, in fact, average, and that its percentage of children on the pupil premium is below that for Hammersmith and Fulham and well below that for inner London. Perhaps that is why the school has only just got a “good” rating from Ofsted. I could give the Minister the names of many, many more people with much more experience, so is this not a case of “chumocracy”, as the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) rightly said?
We have armchair critics who do not do half as much good as Mr Young does for disadvantaged students in London and across the country. The hon. Lady has questioned the record of the West London Free School, but its GCSE results for 2016 put it in the top 10% of all English schools in the country.
I am afraid that I feel Mr Young’s comments do cross a line and are indicative of an underlying character. We are talking about the kind of person who would tweet comments to a woman about masturbating over images of refugees—this does just cross a line. I feel that he should withdraw. When we apply for jobs, we all say whether or not there is anything in our past that could cause embarrassment. If that question was asked and it was answered “no”, there is clearly a case for the board revisiting this and asking him to step down.
I recognise that, as I have said, many of the tweets have been obnoxious and repellent in many ways—obviously, I have not seen all 40,000 of them—but it is also important to recognise that that tweet was probably eight or nine years old, since which time Mr Young has been on something of a developmental journey. It is possible that there is a capacity for reform, and we want to encourage Mr Young to develop the best sides of his personality—those that have led to him setting up good schools and to working with disadvantaged children in London so that they can make the most of their potential. It is for those reasons that he has been appointed to the board.
There is a fault line in politics, with those who want a modern democracy with people appointed on their merit rather than their mates on one side, and I am surprised that the Minister, who is meant to be a serious person, finds himself on the other side.
I ask the Minister specifically about Mr Young’s comments in the past two to three years, which the Select Committee Chairman raised, and in which Mr Young advocated what he called “progressive eugenics”—not in 2009, but in 2015. He repeated that in November 2017. The comments were removed by the Teach First website and he claimed that he had been no-platformed and censored. Does that sound like someone remorseful, who is suitable for public office? Why on earth has the Minister done this, not only to his and the Prime Minister’s credibility, but to that of the Office for Students?
Mr Young’s work on behalf of disadvantaged and disabled students speaks for itself. He has championed inclusion in the educational institutions that he has set up. I cannot speak for the content of specific articles or tweets because, frankly, there are too many, and he has apologised for any offence he has caused, but I think that we should judge him by what he does—more so than we are currently doing.
Will the Minister confirm that Toby Young has never used social media to tweet bomb threats against rival politicians, unlike one member of the Labour party, who is named in the newspapers today, and that some of the outrage is little more than an extension of the “no platform” policy used to drive anyone with a right of centre view out of the university sector?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, the same one that was made a few moments ago, which is essentially that double standards are being applied here. Opposition Members should look at their use of social media—for example, the appalling slurs on Conservative candidates that are frequently levelled before a general election, and the deception targeted at students about the Labour party’s intentions on student fees and tuition debt. They should consider their record on social media before criticising others.
Does the Minister suggest that, simply because Mr Young, under pressure, has now apologised for his dark and dangerous comments, he no longer holds the views that he has held for many years?
Mr Young has apologised, as the hon. Lady said. He has said that he regrets the comments, which suggests that he has moved on. He has also committed to not repeating those comments and accepted the reality that if he does, he will no longer be publicly appointed to the Office for Students board.
The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee oversees the public appointments process and we hold the public appointments commissioner accountable for the conduct of the code. This is a timely reminder that public appointments are to be held accountable. Is my hon. Friend satisfied that the panel had the due diligence they should have had when they made their appointment? What representations has he received from any member of the panel about the appointment since it was made?
I thank my hon. Friend for his questions. The panel was correctly composed. As I said earlier, it consisted of a senior civil servant from the Department for Education, Sir Michael Barber himself and an independent panel member. They conducted the interview with Mr Young in the same manner as they conducted interviews with other candidates and found him appointable. In respect of due diligence, one has to look at what is reasonable and proportionate for a panel to do. Neither I nor the Department were aware of the offensive tweets before the appointment was made, but there is nothing unusual about that. Many of the remarks were made years—in some cases, decades—ago and it is not reasonable or proportionate for the Government to trawl through tens of thousands of tweets over many years when making public appointments.
As a woman and as the mother of a young girl, I am appalled that the Minister and the Prime Minister deem it suitable to appoint such a man to this position. He has joked about anal rape of women. He talks about women’s breasts constantly on Twitter. Will the Minister not join me in condemning this misogynistic view from someone who will be in a position of power and show all those young girls who look to the Government that it is simply not good enough?
I agree with the sentiments the hon. Lady has expressed. Those comments and tweets are obviously obnoxious and repellent, and that is why it is right that Mr Young has apologised for them, it is right that he has expressed regret for them and it is right that he has committed not to repeat them at the risk of being immediately dismissed from the Office for Students board.
I have been interested to hear the Minister’s answers. Can he reassure me about what evidence he took in relation to Mr Young’s current appointment as a Fulbright commissioner and what reassurances he has that some of the behaviour we have discussed this afternoon will not be repeated?
Mr Young does important work on the Fulbright Commission. He is a commissioner and has been reappointed to that role as a result of the good work he has done. That carries on. As I said earlier, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, the chair of the Fulbright Commission, has described Mr Young as an effective, committed and energetic commissioner and seen no evidence that the historic remarks—going back many years—have influenced him in discharging his duties responsibly on behalf of disadvantaged young people. He does very good work in promoting social mobility through the Fulbright Commission’s work with the Sutton Trust and other organisations.
The Minister asks us to judge Mr Young by what he does. As one of the many women who have had personal, repeated and recent experiences of his ability to lose friends and alienate people, I say to the Minister that an undergraduate student would know that it is not evidence enough of a change in behaviour for someone simply—when they have been caught out—to say sorry. Every educationist would say to the Minister that rewarding bad behaviour, as he is, sends a terrible message to our universities about the standards we accept. What more does Mr Young have to say before the Minister realises that he deserves to stay on Twitter, not in teaching?
Since Mr Young made many of these comments and wrote these articles—which, in most cases, predate 2010—he has been appointed to the Fulbright Commission, he has been reappointed to the Fulbright Commission, he has been made director of a leading education charity and he has done important work setting up schools in west London that are delivering great outcomes for young people. That is what we should judge him by, not foolish and obnoxious tweets from the distant past.
My constituents have no time for unpleasant and obscene remarks, no matter who makes them. Will the Minister ensure that all appointees to the board, including this one, have as one of their first priorities a close examination of the obscene levels of executive pay for some of the senior personnel in the higher and further education sectors, which many students regard as completely outrageous?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, and it is a priority for the Office for Students to address the spiralling top-level and vice chancellor pay in our institutions. It featured in the regulatory framework consultation, which closed shortly before Christmas, and will be prominent in the regulatory framework when that is published later in the spring.
The problem is that this man thought it was okay to publicly leer at women’s bodies while they were in the workplace, including tweeting repeatedly about women, about their knockers, their breasts, their boobs, their baps—on and on. What does it say to women and young girls across the country that a Minister is defending that—including when this man attacked a woman MP in this House in that way? Instead, why does not the Minister stand with women across the world who are saying to men like this that their time is up?
The Government have condemned the tweets. Mr Young has apologised for them. Any repetition of language of that kind will not be tolerated.
I suspect I am one of the few people in the Chamber who has been to the West London Free School. I saw there for myself the outstanding work that Toby and his team have delivered, and they have done that blind to people’s background and wealth, to the colour of their skin and to the creed that they practise. Does the Minister agree that that record deserves to be honoured and recognised? The comments were wrong, but those deeds need to be respected and they give Toby a credible platform for taking that office.
My hon. Friend is right to laud Mr Young’s achievements at the West London Free School, where the 38.5% of children who receive the pupil premium have done better than the national average for pupils on the pupil premium in both this most recent year and the previous one. Mr Young has created an inclusive environment. A parent governor at the school described him as
“committed to public education, academic excellence, and greater opportunities for kids from lower incomes.”
I am usually the first to congratulate my constituents on their achievements, but even Toby Young’s Acton address cannot save him on this one. In his column in The Spectator on 9 December—not historical, but mere days before his appointment—he boasted
“what a Big Swinging Dick I am.”
The column was titled “The subtle art of showing off at work”. How does that and the fact that his West London Free School has gone through five headteachers in almost as many years make him qualified for this post?
Had Opposition Members done half as much as Mr Young has to promote outcomes for disadvantaged students, they would be in a better position to disparage his achievements. Mr Young’s school has done better than the national average for its pupils on the pupil premium in both this most recent year and the last. That is something of which he can be rightly proud.
The Minister is at pains to say that this appointment was Nolan-compliant. It is standard practice in modern times for employers to look carefully at the social media profile of those they appoint, particularly to public office. What due diligence was carried out? Were those who appointed Mr Young to the post aware of these obnoxious tweets? If so, what was it about him that made him so uniquely qualified for this post over those without such an obnoxious social media profile?
As I have said, the competition through which Toby Young was appointed was rigorous, open and fair. Like all the interviews, his was conducted by a panel consisting of the three people I have mentioned. It was an apolitical and independent-minded board of panellists who deemed Toby Young worthy of appointment.
The Minister really is seeking to defend the indefensible. As a former Minister for Disabled People, I am appalled at some of Mr Young’s recently expressed views about the place of disabled people in our society. The Minister has said that many of Mr Young’s misogynistic tweets were from many years ago, but his views about disabled people are very recent indeed. How can the Minister appoint somebody who thinks so little of the contribution of disabled people to our society to such an important position? Does he not agree that it is indefensible?
As I have already said, Mr Young has been a champion of the inclusion of children with disabilities in mainstream education. Not only that, but outside his work with schools, he is a patron of the residential care home in which lives his brother, who has learning disabilities of his own.
Order. I am looking to end these exchanges at quarter past 5, so Members need to be very brief.
The Ministers says that he condemns Toby’s Young’s past comments, but the only appropriate condemnation would be to remove him from the board of the Office for Students. Does the Minister agree that a suitable replacement would be a representative from the University and College Union, so that university staff have a voice on the board?
No, that would not be appropriate. I take the same view that the shadow Education Secretary took with respect to the comments of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Jared O'Mara) when she said that he deserved a second chance and that she was happy to sit alongside him because the comments happened a long time ago. In her words,
“People do change their views... it is important that they recognise that and apologise and correct that behaviour.”
That is what we are expecting Toby Young to do.
If a Minister of the Crown were guilty of making these filthy and obnoxious remarks, would the Minister expect him to resign?
Going forward, the Nolan principles of public life will be applicable to Toby Young. He will be holding a public office, as a board member of the Office for Students. That is why it has been made very clear to him and to other board members of the Office for Students that if they make these kinds of objectionable comments and remarks they will be in breach of those principles and would not be able to continue in their positions.
I wonder whether the Minister can assist Members in this way: does he think that the good people of Broxtowe are more interested in the obnoxious tweets of somebody who made those tweets many years ago but who nevertheless has an important position than they are in learning about the NHS crisis, which has affected almost everybody in this country?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. Labour’s priorities are curious. We have had not a word from the leadership of the party about what is going on in Iran, for example, and it is focusing instead on its feigned outrage over Toby Young. It should really focus on the priorities facing this country, not these second order ones.
The Minister said earlier that, in appointments to this board, there was a desire to represent the broad range of higher education providers. Why did he find space for such a controversial appointment, but no space for somebody with FE experience, when so many students are in further education?
The board is representative of a broad range of higher education providers, as it is required to be under the terms of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017. It contains a vice-chancellor of the University of the West of England; a former vice-chancellor of BPP University; the chair of council at an arts college, the Rose Bruford College; and a senior figure from an Oxford college, who happens to be the bursar and also a director at the Oxford Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies. It is well representative of the excellent diversity of our higher education system.
May I gently remind the Minister that abuse comes to all candidates, not just Conservative ones? I truly want to believe that this House takes allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour in the workplace seriously, but how can I when the Minister is continuing with the appointment of this misogynist man who thinks that it is appropriate constantly to tweet about women’s breasts, anal rape and masturbating over images of starving children?
I do not see why we should take lessons from the Labour party on these matters. Let us take, for example, the case of the shadow Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), who made some extraordinarily intemperate and misogynistic comments about my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Ms McVey). They were too vile to repeat, but typical of what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) described as the persistent,
“low-level, non-violent misogyny”
at the top of the Labour party.
The Minister has really diminished himself over the course of the past 45 minutes, and Toby Young is really not worth ruining his own career for. Mr Young is someone who has contempt for women, contempt for disabled people, and contempt for people from deprived communities who have the effrontery to try to get into Oxford. Will the Minister do the decent thing and disown Mr Young, and see his own reputation much enhanced for doing so?
We are going over much the same ground as in previous questions. The tweets, remarks and comments that Mr Young has made were clearly wrong. He is absolutely right to have apologised for them. Since making many of those remarks, he has continued to do good work in our educational system: he is delivering good outcomes for disadvantaged pupils at his schools in west London; and he is working hard on the Fulbright Commission. We have every expectation that he will make a valuable contribution to the work of the Office for Students.
I think the Minister said that Mr Young was deemed appointable by the panel without knowledge of the information on his past remarks that we have been hearing about. Were any other candidates deemed appointable by the panel, but not appointed? If that is the case, could this not be revisited with a view to appointing someone who does not have these kind of indecent views?
As I have already said, the appointment process followed by the Office for Students board and panel was conducted in accordance with the code of practice published by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. Mr Young was appointable—many people were interviewed, as this is an important body—and it was determined that he had characteristics that would enable him to acquit those responsibilities well.
It is quite clear from the Minister’s stumbling answers this afternoon that due diligence was not carried out on the appointment of this man. Does the fact that he deleted 50,000 tweets last week not worry the Minister? Does it not worry the Minister that today he has told us about decades of abusive and offensive comments made by this man? Surely this is the time to revisit the decision to appoint him.
Mr Young’s online oeuvre is not a great loss to the world. Personally speaking, I am glad we do not have to go through it, and it is probably a good thing that it is lost to the world. Mr Young wants to move forward and to focus on the important contributions that he is making to the outcomes of disadvantaged young people in west London and elsewhere in the country. Digging up past tweets and other comments dating back to the 1980s really serves very little productive purpose.